BCS Awards for MP Websites

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

The winners of the British Computer Society (BCS) Members of Parliament (MP) website awards were announced at a special event in the House of Commons on 7 November. The overall winner was Adam Price MP for Carmarthen East. The other awards went to: Paul Flynn MP – best design, Derek Wyatt MP – engagement and Alan Johnson MP for accessibility. (I have added links to all the relevant sites at the bottom of this blog).

The BCS set this competition up as part of the BCS 50th anniversary celebrations. The intent was to make parliamentarians more aware of the importance of ICT to the UK and in particular the work and influence of the BCS.
The competition also raised the awareness amongst MPs of the power of the web to promote their messages and agenda.

Speaking for the judging panel, Professor Nigel Shadbolt said that standards varied enormously. Some of the worst comments were: “Is he more interested in himself or his voters?”, “Wouldn’t vote for him.”, “Which party does this woman belong to?” and “Self promoting as usual.”

Professor Shadbolt added: “Of particular concern was the large number of MP websites that failed to be short-listed because they failed the accessibility test. This means that the large minority of the population with various disabilities would be unable to properly access these sites. And this last category, particularly with an ageing and increasingly IT reliant society, they ignore at their political peril.”

“The best were able to combine excellent content with the newest forms of media, such as video and blogging in a bid to get up-to-date, relevant and well-written information out to a cross-section of their constituency.”
Accessibility being my particular interest I have had a closer look at the three top sites in this category. I spoke to Abilitynet judge who said that there was a clear winner in this category.

Alan Johnson

The winner was Alan Johnson. The first thing to notice about this site is the simplicity and clear layout of the home page. It is very easy to see how to get from here to any details. The only sad thing is that the latest news at the time of the competition in November was from July.

The site is all built using XHTML Strict and the checks I run showed that it did conform, which shows that it is perfectly possible to abide by this level of quality. This is a good accessible site but I would still like to make some suggestions for improvement:

  • The skip to main function is accessible to people using screen readers but is not visible to other people who may prefer to use the tab key rather than the mouse to navigate (including myself).
  • The structure of the page is not really reflected in the header structure for example it would be really helpful if the navigation heading was a level two header so that screen reader users could access it easily by listing the headings.
  • There is an accessibility page, which starts off with a good intent statement and then includes some technical detail of how this is done. It could be improved by adding links to some pages that describe how to use a browser such as the AbilityNet ‘myweb myway’ page http://www.georgegalloway.com/”>http://www.georgegalloway.com/